Monday, November 11, 2013

Do you make your own [...]?

Quite often, I get asked whether my company makes specific components - motion trackers, electronics, optics, etc. - that we use inside our virtual reality goggles.

As one would expect, we look at these 'make vs. buy' decisions individually, and ask several questions:

  • Can we add value to our customers if we 'make'? Can we generate a product that is significantly better or lower-cost or offers some other unique benefits relative to the 'buy' alternative?
  • How many of these do we expect to make? We'd be much more likely to buy when only small quantities are required and more inclined to make when there are more units.
  • Can we afford it?
  • Can we build it on time?
  • Can we create value for our shareholders by generating valuable patent filings or know-how?
  • Is this a discipline that we need to understand very well for our future business?
  • Does a 'buy' option exist?
Historically, these have been our answers:
  • Orientation trackers: we typically buy, but we then try to improve what we buy. We have worked with many of the leading orientation tracking vendors - Intersense, Intertial labs, Hillcrest, YEI - and have decided against developing our own. However, we have often worked with these manufacturers to introduce new features in their products or to optimize them for HMD use. We have added some of our own features such as predictive tracking when those did not exist. Last, we prefer to encapsulate the vendor-specific API with a standard Sensics interface because it allows our customers the benefit of maintaining their software investments when we change the motion tracker vendor inside our products.
  • Optics. To date, we have always designed and made optics ourselves. We have made optics for small and large displays, using glass, plastic and fiber, using a variety of manufacturing technologies. We believe that the our portfolio of optical designs is an advantage, and that optics are a critical part of the goggle experience.
  • Electronics. We often design our own electronics. Sometimes, we need special high-speed processing, and in other instances, we feel that we need something beyond simple driving of a display. This can be unique video processing, distortion correction or packaging that supports a particularly compact design.
  • Displays. We buy. We don't have the know-how nor the capital to make our own displays and in the world of changing display technologies, we're glad not to be locked into a specific one. Having said that, we have worked with eMagin in prior years to modify the size of one of their OLED driver boards to make a system more compact and achieve better optical design. It was a financial investment, but we felt we added value to our customers.
  • Mechanical design. We rarely design accessories such as helmet-mounts, but we do love to design goggle enclosures whether to give it our unique 'look', or to include innovative features such as hand tracking sensors.
  • Software. We write our own (or pay to have it written). Our software is so deeply tied to the unique functionality of our designs that it is not available for off-the-shelf purchase.
If you are a manufacturer and would like to see how we can use some of our technologies to help you get new, innovative products to market on short order, drop me a line.

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